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Germany, clinging to life in the World Cup, manages a draw against Spain

Niclas Füllkrug celebrates scoring Germany's goal in the 83rd minute. (Matthew Childs/Reuters)

KHOR, Qatar — With a big whew from an unlikely source near closing time, Germany upped its chances to do something rarer than rare in its decorated World Cup history. It still can climb out of the crypt just before the lid shuts.

A 1-1 draw with Spain on Sunday at Al Bayt Stadium in a match of European bigwigs in which both goals came from substitutes — Álvaro Morata for Spain in the 62nd minute and the unheralded Niclas Füllkrug for Germany in the 83rd — left the Germans with one point after two matches and still at the bottom of Group E yet sitting down there with hope. Nobody has qualified or bowed out yet in this Group of Life, so if Germany can defeat Costa Rica, which has three points, maybe it can pip Japan, which also has three points, if Japan loses to Spain, which has four.

If it can’t beat Costa Rica or if Japan beats Spain, Germany would go out in the group stage for a second straight World Cup, something unthinkable in a legacy featuring four titles, four runner-up finishes and three third-place finishes.

On Nov. 27, the World Cup continued with four games in Group E and Group F. Here are the results. (Video: The Washington Post)

Its eternal reliability has teetered here, just another of the oddities of an odd World Cup given it arrived losing only once in the 15 matches since Manager Hansi Flick moved from Bayern Munich in August 2021 to succeed Joachim Löw, who had managed Germany for most of forever. A 1-0 lead over Japan in the opener turned into a dramatic 2-1 defeat and the customary brief period of national analysis among those facing such matters.

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Things looked really deflated through 80 minutes Sunday night, when Germany trailed Spain 1-0 and looked almost bound to reach the third match with zero points, meaning it still would be alive thanks to Costa Rica’s mind-altering 1-0 upset of Japan on Sunday. That Germany didn’t stay on zero left Spain’s players disappointed and Manager Luis Enrique noting “a strange feeling” and “a pity” and a “sad moment” to miss out on getting to six points, all while grateful to top the group.

It all happened because Germany, which had hatched fewer plays than picturesque Spain, hatched a play in the 83rd minute as another curtain started dropping. Two Bayern Munich guys got it going. Leroy Sané, who had come on as a substitution in the 70th, sent a pass up the right side into a small thicket before Jamal Musiala, that marvel aged 19, pried it loose and continued through the right side of the box.

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Right there next to Musiala ran Füllkrug, a 29-year-old battleship of a dude who has all of three caps for the national team, the third coming Sunday after entering in the 70th minute himself. Füllkrug, the Werder Bremen forward, had just debuted seemingly hours ago in a pre-World Cup friendly against Oman. Flick chose him at least somewhat on the basis of his Bundesliga success this season; he has 10 goals in 14 matches. After the match, one questioner would ask Morata if he had ever heard of Füllkrug. (Yes.) But now, with time waning, Füllkrug sort of inherited possession from Musiala and blasted a ball from the right up to the roof on the left, giving Germany its first non-loss here.

It had more energy from there but couldn’t quite nab a win. It left Flick saying at his news conference that he saw a team that knew the heavy reality and dealt with it — and that the goal might help engender some self-confidence.

As 68,895 witnessed the big-time against the big-time, Spain had seemed the more resurgent in the early and middle parts. Bummed with its failure to escape group play in 2014 and its dreary loss to Russia in the round of 16 in 2018, all after the World Cup title of 2010, Spain followed on its 7-0 win over Costa Rica here by providing some beauty at points. That included something to see in the seventh minute, when its patient attackers passed along the top of the box until Dani Olmo rocketed one that goalkeeper Manuel Neuer had to slap to the underside of the crossbar, off which it caromed strangely away.

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A goal finally came in the 62nd, when Olmo slid a ball on the left to Jordi Alba, who crossed gorgeously to the other goal-scoring substitute, Morata, who had come on in the 54th. When Morata outraced defender Niklas Süle and ticked it up and in just inside the left post, Germany looked somewhere close to hopeless.

Then finally it found hope.

World Cup in Qatar

World champions: Argentina has won the World Cup, defeating France in penalty kicks in a thrilling final in Lusail, Qatar, for its first world championship since 1986. Argentina was led by global soccer star Lionel Messi in what is expected to be his final World Cup appearance. France was bidding to become the first repeat champion since Brazil won consecutive trophies in 1958 and 1962.

Today’s WorldView: In the minds of many critics, especially in the West, Qatar’s World Cup will always be a tournament shrouded in controversy. But Qatar’s foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, wants people to take another view.

Perspective: “America is not a men’s soccer laughingstock right now. It’s onto something, and it’s more attuned to what’s working for the rest of the world rather than stubbornly forcing an American sports culture — without the benefit of best-of-the-best talent — into international competition.” Read Jerry Brewer on the U.S. men’s national team’s future.